As he sat nursing his wounds in the weeks following a death-defying fall from the top of a solid steel cage, Mick Foley realised the time had come to change career direction.
Mankind’s 1998 Hell in a Cell loss against the Undertaker defined the career of ‘Mrs Foley’s Little Boy’ and cemented his place in wrestling history, culminating in his induction into this year’s WWE Hall of Fame on 6 April alongside legends of the square circle such as Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino.
Yet just a month later on 1 May, Mick will step out on to the York Barbican stage, a place he only knows the existence of as it gave its name to his home state, New York.
“I do Wrestlemania first,” the former WWE champion told Gazette reporter Karl Hansell. “But I’m toying with the idea of using the 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden and the national TV audience as a way of spreading the word of my stand up show in York.
“Madison Square Garden and I go way back, travelling many times as a fan and I had many defining moments in my career there, so it would be my ideal choice to be inducted, outside of York – that would be pretty huge. It’s going to be different to Madison Square Garden in levels of importance but York is right below the Hall of Fame.”
After 30 adrenaline-fuelled years in the industry, performing in front of an audience could lose its charm, but Mick said he expects to get a bigger rush from performing his Tales From a Wrestling Past comedy show at the Barbican than performing in front of a sold-out stadium. He explained: “I have a blank canvas when I’m stepping on stage. I take it as a serious responsibility, understanding that tickets are not cheap and people are taking the time and effort to come see me. I feel I put on a good show and that the vast majority of people leave surprised at how much fun they have had.”
The transition from battler to banter has not always been smooth for ‘The Hardcore Legend’. While his writing career got off with a bang as his autobiography ‘Have A Nice Day’ topped the New York Times bestsellers list, he confesses to having a few teething problems in his early comedy career.
He said: “I did a guest set for a benefit for injured servicemen. I went up with only a couple of ideas, realised that most of the comics were talking about the same type of material, exactly what I had planned, so I went off in a different direction. I had a performance so bad I said I would never go on stage again. But some of the ideas that day I went back over and later had success with. The thing with comedy is you never know what works.”
Like his wrestling alter-egos, Mick wouldn’t be counted out, and he learnt from his mistakes. “First of all, I should never have branded what I did as stand up comedy,” he said. “It’s more about my stories of life on the road, with an emphasis on humour. I’m more of a storyteller, I try to take people on a physical and emotional rollercoaster journey.”
One of the ideas he has promised to debut at his York show is his plan for world peace. “I can’t say this in the US, I will be labelled as an anti-patriot, but the idea that we didn’t know Osama Bin Laden was a porn addict just astounds me. They say that the worst thing for a porn addict to do is go cold turkey so I have a few friends in the adult film industry that could really have done us all a favour.
“I think we could have learned a lot, we maybe even had a shot at world peace. So I’m going to hit you guys in York with that.”
We all know that wrestling isn’t ‘real’, with each match a story told by the performers, like a dance, and that eased Mick’s transition into the literary world. But few comics will have decided upon their vocation after being thrown 20-feet, through a table, by a seven-foot tall man dressed as an undertaker. “Mankind started out very disturbed,” said Mick. “But at the point in time when he was thrown off a cell structure, the guy who played the character realised that I had to find other ways to connect with the audience. I had two small children at the time and in the days that followed I realised that I had to connect to people in other ways than making them wince. It’s at that point Mankind started to lighten up and humour became a big part of the character. That most violent of matches is what inspired me to start working on my comedy skills.”
In his retirement Mick has retained his close ties with the WWE, acting in non-wrestling TV roles on a part-time basis, yet even at 47 years old and with a wife and family at home, he has no plans to settle down. “I don’t really know how to be home for more than two weeks at a time,” he said. “I have never really done it.”
Following his UK tour, Mick will return to WWE, where he intends to take on a more active offscreen role. “I don’t think you are ever going to see another three week tour,” he said. “I’m not trying to threaten the people of York but if I come back it will be London or Manchester or Dublin, I don’t think I will be able to hit a lot of venues. This is the only chance I might get.”
Before our time was up, there was the opportunity to ask one more vital question – who would win this year’s main event at Wrestlemania? Would it be current champion The Rock, number-one contender John Cena, or perhaps someone else? Mike replied, teasing a potential involvement of his own: “I wouldn’t count Punk out of that picture, I like to be surprised. I’d like to see some kind of added twist to the show, maybe a special referee who maybe has an interest and knows both guys well?”
Tickets for the Wednesday 1 May show at the York Barbican are on sale now, priced £22.50. Meet and greet packages are also available at £32.50.
To book tickets call the box office on 0844 854 2757 or book online at www.yorkbarbican.co.uk
Tales from A Wrestling Past is also coming to Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday 26 April and tickets can be booked via www.middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk or by calling (01642) 729729.